Many people have been taught to read their Bibles as a collection of isolated books. The books spans over millennia and many different cultures. How do these books fit together? Does the Bible have an organized, coherent theme? Or, are we simply doing a biblical jig-saw puzzle without the picture?
Michael Williams believes that the Bible should be read redemptively. Or, to put it another way, he believes that the Old Testament looks forward to Christ’s work then the New Testament describes Christ’s work and then explains all of its implications. Williams is Professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary and a member of the NIV Committee on Bible Translation. In his book, How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens, he sets out on a task to help ordinary Christians see the person and work of Christ in every book.
The concept sounds simple but the task, in my opinion, is a bit daunting. We have 66 books in the Bible. Some are very long books (i.e. Genesis) and some are short (i.e. Ruth). Some are very complicated (i.e. Ezekiel) and some are more straightforward (i.e. Mark). Williams aims to take every book and introduce it, explain its basic objective and them, and then show how it points forward or reflects Christ. He does this in about 4 pages or so per book. Some may want more detail but I don’t think this is the point of this book. If you want to study in more depth perhaps a NT/OT …
A couple of weeks ago I came to one of those times in sermon prep where I was just staring at the Bible and wondering what I was going to do with the passage. Specifically it was in Leviticus 24. This chapter deals with the regulations for the lamp stand and the bread. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we have a case of blasphemy. The offender is the son of an Egyptian man and an Israelite woman.
(Lev 24.10-11) Now an Israelite woman’s son, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel. And the Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought in the camp,11 and the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name, and cursed.
The commentators debate about the specifics of the offense, but suffice it to say, this man spoke in an insulting, irreverent, and unholy manner concerning the Lord God of Israel. He was not impressed by him and felt no obligation to fear him. So like Goliath, he mocked him.
The penalty for this divine hate crime was quick and efficient community execution by way of stoning.
(Lev 24.15-16) 15 And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. 16 Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death.
I have been quite refreshed by the book Feed My Sheep. It is a compilation with contributions from Mohler, Sproul, Piper, and MacArthur (among others). As you might expect, it is a very helpful reminder and instruction into the priority of preaching.
This particular quote is from Sinclair Ferguson in his chapter preaching to the heart. The whole chapter is very helpful, but this was particularly appropriate:
There is a center to the Bible and its message of grace. It is found in Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected. Grace, therefore, must be preached in a way that is centered and focused on Jesus Christ Himself. We must never offer the benefits of the gospel without the Benefactor Himself. For many preachers, however, it is much easier to deal with the pragmatic things, to answer “how to” questions, and even to expose and denounce sin than it is to give an adequate explanation of the source of the forgiveness, acceptance, and power we need.
There are over 7 billion people in the world. Now imagine all of them receiving a summons to do something immediately. It seems almost impossible to consider something so important, so pressing that an entire state, let alone the entire world bend give undivided attention to it. But, this is what we read in the first words of the 50th Psalm:
“The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.” (Psalm 50:1)
God’s Word is going out as a summons to the entire earth, every day, all day. This means all people who have lived for centuries and centuries. This makes that 7 billion number explode with exponents.
What does he want the entire world to hear and know?
“Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.” (Psalm 50:2)
Prior to meeting the woman who would become his wife and help him populate the genealogy of the ‘seed’, we see the patriarch Isaac retiring to seclusion in a field. And what do we learn that he is intending on doing? The text informs us that he is headed out “to meditate.”
And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening…(Gen 24.63a)
I find the inclusion of this fact very interesting.
Sometimes things are not what they appear. I have stared for what felt like hours into one of the magic eye books waiting to “see it”. To my shame I have put the book down many times confessing that I didn’t see it.
This happens in our Bible reading too. Remember a couple of vivid occasions in the gospel narrative: Judas kissed Jesus and we also see Peter run away. If we were there we may think that Judas was the man while Peter was tucking it and running. However, Judas was in fact the worst kind of betrayer while Peter turned out to be loyal unto death. Consider also the scene in Genesis 3, the Garden of Eden. The jewel of God’s creation, Adam and Eve, are flirting with disaster. They are being lulled to sleep by the hissing promises of the evil one. They cave and God judges. From the outside it looks like this is done. However, things are not like they appear. God says,
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”” (Genesis 3:15)
There is the promise of adversity and ultimate triumph. The verse here still is not without some language that has us set up for something we don’t fully expect. There will be a crushing of the head by the seed of the woman but also the bruising of the heel by the offspring of the serpent.
You may be familiar with the story in 1 Kings 21. Ahab is one of the worst kings in the history of Israel. His lusts knows no bounds. One day he decides that he wants to take the vineyard that belonged to a man named Naboth. He offered to give him another patch of land or even to buy it from him. However, Naboth resisted: ‘”The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” (1Ki 21.3)
Naboth refused because the land was part of his inheritance. We might think that this is dripping with the sentimentality of family. And it may. But more than that, it represents the Hebrew mindset that the land is a gift from God. Naboth can’t just “give it up and take something else.” The land is not like a pair of sneakers or upgrading a phone.
As we read on we see that Ahab’s wife, the notorious Jezebel, does his dirty work. She gets a couple of worthless guys together to accuse Naboth of something he did not do in order to put him to death. This she does successfully. The innocent Naboth is killed outside the city because of a false accusation of blasphemy.
In 2 Kings 8 we read of a woman who had been the beneficiary of the powerful kindness of God through his servant Elisha. The Shunammite woman’s son had died and then God used Elisha to raise him from the dead (2 Kings 4.18ff).
Elisha then warned her that a famine was coming and that it was wise to leave her homeland. This advice was taken. In chapter 8 we learn that she has come back to her land to find it in someone else’s hands. She goes to the King and asks for grace. She asked the king for her land back.
A funny thing happened though. As she entered to make her requests known, the King was having his ears filled with the mighty deeds of God through Elisha. More specifically, God’s mighty deeds to this very woman! (2 Kings 8.4-6). This is absolutely amazing. The King, with a somewhat softened heart, gives the woman all of her land back plus the produce from the fields she would have earned had she been there (2 Kings 8.6).
We can’t help but see gospel themes come to the surface as we consider this.
Who would you say was the most pagan, biblically illiterate church in the New Testament? Chances are Corinth would be at the top of your list. Judging by the tone of and issues included in Paul’s two letters, we can safely say that the church had a bit of a pagan hangover mixed with gospel amnesia. But this did not stop him from dipping his pen in the inkwell of the Old Testament Scriptures to make his point.
When you consider that Paul only spent about 18 months with these people it is even more striking. He got a lot done. He reasoned with Jews and, along with Aquila and Priscilla, saw Gentile converts and a church planted (Acts 18; Rom. 16.3; 2 Tim. 4.19-20). This is a strong gospel encouragement, even amid a city that was so full of false worship (1 Cor. 8.5).
Think about how the Old Testament Scriptures are treated today in Evangelicalism. They are rarely touched and when they are they are often moralized rather than preached with any connection to Jesus. Ask the average church goer how the Old relates to the New Testament and you will get a surprising array of answers. Consider the sermons by pastors. How may preach the Old Testament? There are many scholars who are occupied with redaction criticism and cast serious doubts about the reliability of many Old Testament texts. Sadly, many preachers have become functional evangelical redactors by ignoring large portions of their Bibles or at least lacking the confidence or the understanding to show the robust significance …
(Lev 16.31-32) It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. 32 And the priest who is anointed and be consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments.
This is the famous Day of Atonement passage. In Leviticus 16 God communicates to the Nation of Israel how they would have their sin dealt with. This annual event was to deal with their uncleanness due to their sin. Embedded in the pronouncement of cleansing (Lev.16.30) is this reminder of repetition.